Going green may sound like a good idea, but with a physicist, a biologist, and an economist all teaching courses about the environment this semester — and a host of students eager to take action against climate change — why not gather the data to prove it?
So in classrooms, labs, and residence halls, students and faculty are working together. Their interdisciplinary research will help Colgate address issues of energy use and misuse on campus.
It also will help Colgate honor its pledge — made through the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment — to take immediate short-term actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By signing the commitment, Colgate also promised to compile its first comprehensive carbon inventory.
Ben Taylor ’10, an environmental geography major who hopes to land a job in the alternative energy field, gathered data for the inventory last summer.
Using the Clean Air Cool Planet (CACP) calculator, he logged the greenhouse gas emissions directly financed or caused by the university, as well as the emissions caused by purchased electricity, employee business travel, student study abroad travel, waste disposal, and more.
So this semester, students in Beth Parks’s first-year physics seminar, Energy and Sustainability, surveyed the 120 student residents in West Hall about all the ways they use energy, including heat, laundry, showers, and electrical appliances. The students also used data from Colgate’s new energy monitoring system to discover situations in which energy was being used inefficiently.
The data inspired Hallie Snyder ’13 and her classmates to try to change students’ behavior.
“I think there should be an energy orientation,” Snyder said, “to educate people about how to use their thermostats, and to take shorter showers, and use cold water to do their laundry. You could make it interesting and students could feel like they are part of the presidents’ climate commitment.”
In at least two other classes, students are helping further that goal.
In Global Change and You, biology professor Catherine Cardelus is focusing students on the carbon cycle, specifically on how human energy consumption, food production, and water use are linked to biodiversity loss. In that context, they are considering mitigation strategies for Colgate’s climate action plan.
And in Interdisciplinary Investigations and the Environment, the environmental studies senior seminar taught by Bob Turner, professor of economics and environmental studies, and John Pumilio, Colgate’s sustainability coordinator, student groups are working on sustainability projects including drafting Colgate’s climate action plan, investigating energy efficiency in campus buildings, and developing a community garden.